Aloe marlothii

Aloe marlothii plants growing well can be expected to reach a height of around 4 m. When the 50 or so leaves are fully fleshed out and become up to 1,5 m long, the size of these plants can be truly imposing.

The much-branched panicle appearing in winter may be 80 cm tall. It consists of up to 30 horizontal or obliquely angled racemes. Many A. marlothii flowers are orange or yellow-orange.

There is also a much-admired bicoloured form around the Barberton area. Its racemes are halfway pinkish red, the rest cream coloured. Near Utrecht there is a scarlet flowered form (Reynolds, 1974; Coates Palgrave, 2002).


Photo: Ivan Latti

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe marlothii hybrid

The emerging yellow inflorescence has the features of a healthy Aloe marlothii plant. The leaves normally have scattered spines on their surfaces, not only along the margins. There are forms of A. marlothii lacking spiny surfaces though, but the longitudinal lines on the leaf blades show that an admixture of another species is present in this hybrid.

The size of the marginal spines is also not quite marlothii. Note the spacing variations among the marginal spines (Van Wyk and Smith, 2003).

Photo: Ivan Latti

Author: Ivan Latti


Photo: Ivan Latti

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe marlothii (or hybrid) inflorescence 

The robust base of the peduncle of this Aloe marlothii (or hybrid) inflorescence is flattened along the line from which it emerged or is emerging between two leaf blades. The multiple racemes covered in compact cones of dull pink and green buds are fleshing out on the branch tips of the large panicle promising quite a festive show; probably in orange or nearly red flowers.

These racemes and their buds have lost the early flattened shape that came from the force involved in their appearance. In a week or two the lowest perianth on every raceme will open, nod from its pedicel, change colour, exsert its stamens and produce nectar, enticing bird and insect to participate in pollination rituals benefiting all concerned with this little pact of coexistence.

A. marlothii inflorescences need a few days free from cold spells to add solidity to the branches of the peduncle; all a matter of timing. If the very young and soft branches of such an inflorescence freeze overnight, the limp, aborted racemes will be lying draped helplessly and hopelessly over the leaves, never to open. There is a secondary inflorescence emerging a little lower down on this plant. Its prospects appear doubtful.

Note the differences in size and shape of the sterile bracts visible at the various branching points on the panicle.


Photo: Ivan Latti

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe marlothii flowering at Worcester

The large, but slender panicle comprising seven angled racemes presents a typical Aloe marlothii inflorescence. The orange perianths or individual flowers are densely clustered and angled down towards the stems. These flowers appear differently coloured, depending on the angle of their raceme in the sunlight. The flowers are often secund, positioned predominantly to one side of the raceme stalk rather than being distributed cylindrically around it; in the photo they tend to face upwards.

The peduncle branches are so long that the flowers are spread more widely than the in-curving leaves of the large rosette. The leaf spines are conspicuous, scattered along the green surfaces. Often glaucous to grey-green, this yellow-green leaf colour variety is also common. 

This plant is thriving far away from home. It was photographed in the Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden at Worcester in June. The natural A. marlothii distribution in South Africa lies only in the northeast, north of the Vaal River (or near it) and in KwaZulu-Natal (Reynolds, 1974).


Photo: Ivan Latti

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe marlothii and bird life

Bird species survive by following the appearance of food sources in their domains according to seasonal availability. When these aloe flowers disappear after winter, some pollinators may remain in the vicinity if alternatives offer themselves; others have to move on to find different food.

Survival is contingent upon the delicate balance in the range of options in the accessible environment. Threats to any part of such an environment or some of its offerings are survival issues for the species that live there. We so often do not know what we are doing. 

Bird visits increase when the flowers appear. Nectar and pollen are important food and drink sources for many bird and insect species.

And the price of the not so free meal? Just allow some pollen stuck to your feathers from an earlier Aloe marlothii visit to touch the sticky stigma of one of our new flowers and we're quits, your account settled! As a valued customer, you are so welcome to enjoy our hospitality for as long as you like. All the food you can eat is on the house.

But we'd appreciate our arrangement not to be brought to the attention of any passing health inspectors, as they might consider our practices to be slightly unhygienic, even messy. If you see what we mean?

One large A. marlothii inflorescence may be a very busy restaurant on a sunny morning.

The more poisons like herbicides or insecticides we use to optimize agricultural crops, the fewer bird species will remain if we don't do things the right way. Rachel Carson published her famous book, The Silent Spring back in 1962. It is still worth reading and acting upon to save birds, insects and even people.

Aloe marlothii flowers generously present beauty in their winter blooming season to admirers and pollinators alike. This black-headed oriole will pollinate while feeding.

Interfaces between sciences such as botany, zoology, entomology, agriculture and chemistry can be explored in these blooms. Viewers with scientific, aesthetic and other motives converge on Internet flower pictures elsewhere, because the real flowers exist somewhere. Some do seek out the flowers themselves, like the converging pollinators from their diverse species origins. Every orientation in every species has its honeypot.

Aloe marlothii showing fruit capsules

Under favourable conditions an Aloe marlothii inflorescence that has turned into such a profusion of fruit capsules may yield numerous new plants.

The results may be enhanced by placing the ripening panicle upside down in a sheltered spot in soft, moist soil and left undistured. The capsules will open, releasing seeds at their own rate. Transplanting seedlings may be some task if all had gone well before.


Photo: Johannes Vogel

Author: Ivan Latti

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